Three Short Comedies by Seán O’Casey: Scathing, wildly entertaining commentaries on the new Irish State

Under Garry Hynes’ direction, Druid bring a wide and eccentric range of characters to life

THREE SHORT COMEDIES BY SEÁN O’CASEY

National Opera House, Wexford
★★★★☆

Druid theatre company has brought three of Seán O'Casey's short comedies to life in a multifaceted and high-energy production. A Pound on Demand (1939), Bedtime Story (1951) and The End of the Beginning (1937) deliver light relief amid the pandemic gloom of this Christmas season.

Seldom seen on the Irish stage, these one-act comedies are a departure from the early-20th-century politics for which O’Casey’s plays are better known. Instead these succinct performances focus on the everyday comings and goings of a wide array of characters (in the most Irish sense of the word).

These performances offer observations on authoritarianism, religious conservatism and the folly of “keeping up appearances” while delivering scathing (and wildly entertaining) commentaries on the various failures and vagaries of the (relatively new) independent Irish State. Fans of O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy will recognise his signature dark humour and sharp social criticism amid the farcical elements of this production.

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Francis O'Connor's effective and inventive set design offers a recognisable image of 20th-century realism

The Druid ensemble delivers a succession of increasingly challenging performances, bringing a wide and eccentric range of characters to life. Garry Hynes’s solid direction ensures that the balance between slapstick and satire is finely balanced throughout.

In A Pound on Demand, Venetia Bowe, Liam Heslin, Aaron Monaghan and Rory Nolan offer up a raucous commentary on the power dynamics of small officialdom.

Bedtime Story, an unabashed attack on Éamon de Valera’s Ireland, is full of overegged piety and an entertaining abundance of religious hypocrisy. In this performance Monagan and Sarah Morris deliver engaging and satirical performances (supported by Bowe, Heslin and Marty Rea) that find resonance amid the contemporary hindsight of the audience.

In The End of the Beginning, Morris, Nolan and Rea hit the high point of the evening’s slapstick with an uproarious and frenzied take on 1930s gender norms and domestic labour.

Francis O’Connor’s effective and inventive set design offers a recognisable image of 20th-century realism. James F Ingalls and Gregory Clarke amplify this effect with coherent and subtle lighting and sound design.

No opportunity is missed in the delivery of this trilogy, as Rory Nolan ensures the comic atmosphere is maintained throughout the transitions. The intervals themselves are almost as theatrical as the performances themselves, with every aspect of theatre-making on firm display.

Strong performances, steady direction and a clear aesthetic vision ensure this high-energy and refreshing performance hits the mark.

Run concluded